Welcome Back, Never Trump Alumni!
It's been a while.
Hi all. I just wanted to take a few minutes to get a little something off my chest. This won’t be a particularly well-structured column, but rather an exercise in mild venting.
A funny thing happened last Thursday night. As if some enormous switch had been flipped in the political space-time-continuum, a whole bunch of media and internet right-wingers — who’d spent the last six or so years twisting themselves into pretzels to avoid criticizing Donald Trump in any meaningful way (while reliably trashing their fellow righties who did) — suddenly decided, en masse, that it’s now a completely acceptable (and even necessary) practice.
It’s truly been a sight to behold, and the momentum has only picked up steam since then. Perhaps the wildest part of this exodus has been the incident that triggered it — the event that granted these folks the necessary permission-structure for which to return to — in many cases — their “Never Trump” roots.
It would have had to have been something pretty big, after all. Right? I mean, we’re talking about people who had faithfully defended Trump through thick and thin throughout his four years in office and beyond, not just when it came to his often offensive rhetoric and zany conspiracy theories, but also on the much bigger stuff. I’m talking about things like his rhetorical capitulation to tyrants (at the expense of U.S. intelligence agencies), his attempted extortion of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his disastrous handling of the pandemic, his spreading of the Big Lie, his efforts to void the 2020 election, and his provocation of a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that denied our country of its peaceful transfer of power.
These people stood by him even as the January 6 committee exposed the grotesque details of his efforts to overturn U.S. democracy, as well as his refusal to quash the violence those efforts incited.
Heck, they even rushed to his aid when the FBI searched his home, and still had his back after it became crystal clear that he had in fact stolen top-secret government documents, and refused to return them.
So, what was the last straw on Thursday?
Well, it wasn’t the GOP’s very disappointing midterms (the third consecutive election in which Trump had dealt his party severe blows), though — to be fair — the unexpected losses surely set the table for what was to come. (More on that in a bit.)
No, the breaking point, believe it or not, was Trump saying weird, mean, ranty stuff about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Yes, that offense was the line that apparently could not be crossed.
DeSantis’s resounding victory in Florida last Tuesday stood in stark contrast with the numerous defeats Trump’s involvement in the Republican primaries handed the GOP. So for now, if only for a little while, DeSantis is the right’s new golden child — an alternative to Trump who provides a possible off-ramp from the last six years of Republican chaos and humiliation. Some early polling seems to support this sentiment.
Trump’s public disparagement of DeSantis was the green-light many needed.
For the record, contrary to what Loesch said, Donald Trump is by no means “better than this.” And anyone claiming otherwise is being insultingly disingenuous. The guy has been like “this” since at least the moment he entered politics (and assuredly long before that).
That’s what makes this collective about-face so contrived. Of all the egregious things Trump has said and done since that famous escalator ride in 2015, badmouthing Ron DeSantis, by any objective measure, probably wouldn’t even register in the top thousand. Yet, it’s being treated by his prior faithful as if he just drop-kicked a puppy off a three-story building.
The real story here is that after six years, people are seeing an opportunity to finally “move on” from the Trump era without fear or repercussions. What should have happened two years ago, in response to January 6, is now happening. Those who did a 180-degree turn to support Trump roughly six years ago are doing another one in opposition to him… while of course downplaying (or even ignoring) all the enabling they did in between… whether it be on television, radio, or the web.
For example, you may have noticed Ben Domenech among the tweets above. At the beginning of the Trump era, good old Ben was a prominent NeverTrumper. He was so anti-Trump that he was even part of National Review’s famous “Against Trump” issue. But months later, once it was clear that Trump had become the leader of the GOP for the foreseeable future (and that media-conservatives who defied him would pay a hefty professional price), he and his colleagues at The Federalist turned into some of the most shameless Trump sycophants in the media… which of course secured them regular appearances on Fox News. And again, one of the responsibilities of such a role was to routinely trash those on the right who held onto their principles and continued to call things straight.
But now Ben’s back, baby! He’s declaring that Trump and his “stupid narcissistic approach” have “crossed the line.” As for acknowledging that up until recently, he was an enthusiastic defender of the man and his approach? Well, if he’s done it somewhere, I sure haven’t seen it.
Even Fox’s Brit Hume is now downplaying his history as a Trump apologist, insisting that his only notable defenses of the former president involved “bogus claims” made about him over the years. As proof, Hume cited a couple examples the other night of random people on Twitter calling him a “Never Trumper.”
Of course, Hume was nothing remotely resembling a Never Trumper, at least not after inauguration day of 2017. From then on, he could often be counted on to direct his intellectual heft toward trying to downplay and discredit conservative criticism of Trump as being motivated by nothing more than sour grapes or personal vendettas. The amount of damage control he did after January 6, including with the January 6 committee’s findings, was a sight to behold.
Anyway, there’s a key question in all of this: will the movement last? My best guess is that it probably won’t. If these people are reading this moment wrong, and the Republican base largely remains in Trump’s corner, I expect yet another 180… again with little (if any) acknowledgement of a reversal.
But for now, I’ll take it. After all, this trend (if that’s what it even is) at least aligns with my calls over the last seven years for the political right to show a little courage and independence, and stand up to Trump. Stop treating him like a religious idol. Stop shaping your professional brands around him. The guy’s been out of office for two years, he’s politically toxic, he’s anti-democratic, and it’s well past time to kick him to the curb.
So, if the DeSantis effect takes enough wind out of Trump’s sails that the former president thinks twice about running in 2024, or that he’s not a shoe-in for the nomination if he does run, I see that as a very good thing.
Still, some concessions from the born-agains would be welcome.
Of course, I’m not counting on that happening. For now I’ll just say, “Welcome back Never Trump alumni,” while I have some fun watching my fellow conservatives, who never jumped ship in the first place, muse over the reversals of those coming home.
I’m thinking the line by the great Bruce Willis “Welcome to the party Pal”.
On Jan 6th last year the individual I voted for twice (actually my votes were against Clinton and the clown we have now) forever lost my support. I hope that narcissist is permanently finished.